My phone knows I’m pregnant.
Like many moms my age, along with the time-consuming social media and practical tools, my cell phone is currently host to a handful of pregnancy-related apps. My hospital has its own app reminding me about upcoming appointments, and in a moment of uncertainty earlier this week I downloaded a contraction timer, just in case what I was feeling was not too many meatballs from IKEA, but rather the proverbial “real thing,” straight-up labor. (It was the meatballs.)
The one I’ve had the longest, though, came into my life (and phone) right after I found out I was pregnant in February, and is full of information about my unborn baby’s development and the bizarre changes happening in my own body. Most importantly, it tells us which size fruit the baby is this week, leading perplexed future parents to further discussion questions like “But don’t avocados kind of come in all sizes?” and “What even is a durian, anyway?” This is critical information, of course. Ever wonder how expecting moms all know to hold a pineapple in front of their burgeoning bellies at 33 weeks and take a super-cute photo? An app told them to.
Yet while the fruits are all good fun (unless you spend too long imagining the shape and pointiness of a pineapple in relation to its exit strategy), these apps also include plenty of well-meaning but ultimately frustrating advice. This is where I learned that at ten weeks pregnant, I really shouldn’t be doing any more household chores, especially laundry, and should just go ahead and hire out these unpleasant tasks for the duration. I also learned that sushi isn’t OK, unless its already-cooked fish, in which case it’s probably OK, but why would you take a chance? Are you some kind of fish-crazed daredevil? Just eat steamed salmon forever. Finally, I learned that eggs must be completely cooked, unless you’re from Great Britain, in which case the National Health Service got tired of dissuading women from eating runny eggs and just said, “Go for it.” You can see how we’re a confused generation.
In my opinion, though, some of the most pernicious effects of this app are similar to those found on Pinterest, Instagram and other social media: these places are Ideal World. I wish I’d kept track of the sheer number of articles devoted to setting up a nursery, because it was about fifteen too many. They had different names, like “5 Gender-Neutral Nursery Themes” or “6 Gliders You Need To Sit In Immediately,” but they all peddled the same story, assuming that I had the time, space and money to drop everything and assemble this space in preparation for my child’s arrival.
I used to scroll through these stylishly earth-toned, chevron-printed rooms, decorated with organic cotton and all-wood toys, and think about how I didn’t know exactly where we would live when my second daughter was born. How can “order nursery furniture” be on my Week 18 To-Do list when I’m moving around the world in Week 25, presumably to a small apartment where my baby can expect at most a walk-in closet until she’s old enough to share with her sister? Of course I’d love to paint mountains on the wall like all the cool girls on Pinterest, but we don’t own the walls, so I won’t.
Ideal World doesn’t end with nurseries, of course. I read an article about planning for labor (“What to Pack In Your Hospital Bag” or “10 Things You’ll Be Happy You Wrote In Your Birth Plan”), and realize that, like the nursery set-ups, it starts with a few assumptions, too. In Ideal World, women give birth in clean, calm settings, attended by partners who are eager to be involved. They have reliable rides to the hospital, can afford to hire a doula or labor coach if they want one, and have the option of having their babies relatively close to home. Their opinions are heard and respected, and their caregivers are interested in their health and the health of their babies.
In some sense, these last few weeks—the last of this pregnancy—haven’t been Ideal World. Instead of a car that works, we have one that was rear-ended two weeks ago and now is in the shop. Our hospital is across the city, up to an hour away during morning and evening rush hours. And of course I’m supposed to put my feet up and avoid sick people right now, when my two-year-old has a cold and my husband’s back, damaged by said car accident, is causing him pain and even more medical appointments in this already appointment-heavy time. I’ve been tempted to complain, or be afraid, noting the difference between what I planned, what I thought this time would be like, and how it’s shaping up.
The complaints, though, never seem to stick. Like pushing the home button on my phone, I can collapse them almost immediately, folding Ideal World up into the greater context of all the other mothers, all around the world, who’d love my set of circumstances this week. Cars aren’t insured, like ours is. Partners suffer far worse injuries than mine has, and some aren’t around at all. Mothers lack not just a designated nursery, but a home altogether, and spend the final weeks of their pregnancy calculating exactly how much work they can miss in order to provide for their newest and existing children. Women are giving birth by the side of the road, unable to reach their hospitals in time as maternity hospitals close all over the country. Babies arrive in refugee camps, on the run, in cities just bombed or about to be. Jesus himself arrived in less than ideal circumstances, born away from home in a setting that no one could describe as clean, calm or predictable.
Perhaps I’m not living in Ideal World, but Real World is just fine, I realize. As a friend wrote to me this week, waiting on a baby is “Always a lesson in trust, whether we want it or not.” How important to remember, as I calculate precisely which day and hour I’d like to to arrive, that every step of this journey has been just that: a lesson in trust. Trusting God for what we can’t control, which is far more than we’d like, most of the time. And then thankfulness, remembering to look up from Ideal World, closing the app to see Real World, grateful to live a life more complicated and beautiful than a Pinterest board.